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Publications

Ideas matter. In addition to our work with clients, Bellwether Education Partners generates and gathers ideas and policy solutions, analyzes ongoing reform efforts, and writes about and discusses education and education reform. We believe that the work we do to improve education for all students benefits from thought leadership, analysis, and thoughtful discourse around emerging ideas, in order to help challenge leaders and leading organizations to think differently and improve, to coordinate efforts where possible, to inform policymakers and improve the political and policy context, and to share successful approaches with the public education field at large.

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With nearly one in three students statewide attending a rural school, rural education must be a top priority for Oklahoma’s state policymakers. Students deserve a high-quality education, and the economy depends on it. Unfortunately, data suggest that many of Oklahoma’s rural schools are not providing their students with the academic and non-academic skills necessary for them to be successful in their next steps after high school.

Over the years, Oklahoma’s policymakers have implemented a number of measures to address the challenges facing rural schools. But what is often missing from conversations about how to fix these problems are the voices of the students, parents, community members, and business leaders living in these communities and experiencing the problems firsthand.

In our new report, “Voices from Rural Oklahoma: Where’s Education Headed on the Plain?”, we seek to raise the collective voices of rural community members and convey their thoughts and perspectives to policymakers in the state capital.

Read more>>

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In 2007, Congress and then-President George W. Bush set out to improve Head Start by passing a law that made significant changes to the program. These changes included a requirement that half of all Head Start teachers hold a bachelor’s degree with training in early childhood education by 2013.

We examined the impact of the 2007 law and the current state of the Head Start workforce with the goal of informing both future efforts to improve the quality of Head Start teaching and broader efforts to strengthen the early childhood workforce. In our new paper, "The Best Teachers for Our Littlest Learners? Lessons from Head Start’s Last Decade," we trace the evolution of Head Start Workforce policies over 50 years and detail how shifts in the broader early childhood landscape, especially state-funded pre-k programs, have influenced these policies.

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President Donald Trump’s nomination of philanthropist and education advocate Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education thrust Michigan education into the national spotlight. Because DeVos doesn’t have a track record as a government official or school system leader, her work in Michigan on education issues provides some of the only information about her track record and what she might do as Secretary. Yet, DeVos’ critics and her boosters alike are making a variety of claims about Michigan that are confusing and contradictory.

To help clarify some of these questions, a new analysis from Bellwether Education Partners provides a comprehensive look at the education policy landscape in Michigan.

Read the full report here.

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Currently, about 6,000 Idaho students are on waitlists for charter schools. And the state is expected to add nearly 22,000 new prek-12 students by fall 2022. The charter sector can help ensure these students have access to a high-quality school, but only if it is able to grow and expand. Unfortunately, future growth in the charter sector is stymied by its limited access to facilities financing.

In "Building Excellence: How Helping Charters Access Facilities Can Improve Opportunity for Idaho Kids,” we use survey data we collected from Idaho’s charter school leaders to quantify the stark discrepancy in access to state and local facilities funding sources between district and charter schools.

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In 2012, as states and districts were in the trenches changing teacher evaluation policy, Bellwether Education Partners released The Hangover, a report that warned how teacher evaluation policies could undermine the impact of recently passed laws or prevent future innovation in instruction and teacher evaluation.

Our new report, For Good Measure?, builds on the findings from The Hangover and aims to inform states and districts as they consider changes to teacher evaluation systems after the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

For Good Measure? transcends the polarizing politics and ideology of teacher evaluation to demonstrate the risks policymakers face in the ESSA era and advise on how to mitigate those risks.

Read more.

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Every year, new teachers collectively spend about $4.8 billion on their training requirements, nearly all of which goes to teacher preparation programs. Unfortunately, it’s unclear whether that is money well-spent.

In "A New Agenda: Research to Build a Better Teacher Preparation Program," we argue that a new approach — focused on rigorous, actionable research — is critical to driving improvement in teacher preparation. To create that body of research, the field needs:

  • systems that link completer performance data to preparation programs, make those data publicly accessible, and maintain individual privacy;
  • research methods that use those data to produce actionable strategies and effective practices to improve program design; and
  • policies that incentivize programs to evaluate the effectiveness of their model and adopt new, evidence-based practices.

The end result should be a body of rigorous research that explores a multitude of possible improvement strategies, testing which components of program design are effective, for whom, and under what circumstances. Until those pieces are in place, the quality of teacher preparation will remain stagnant. America’s teachers and students deserve better.

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Tens of thousands of individuals across the United States volunteer their time, energy, and expertise as members of charter school boards. Yet as the charter sector has grown, we’ve learned remarkably little about these individuals who make key operational decisions about their schools and have legal and moral responsibilities for the education of children in their communities.

"Charter School Boards in the Nation’s Capital" is one of the first attempts to use quantitative survey data to explore the relationship between charter boards and school quality. In partnership with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Bellwether authors Juliet Squire and Allison Crean Davis queried charter school board members in Washington, D.C. — a city with one of the highest percentage of public charter school students in the nation — to determine who serves on District charter boards and which board practices are associated with school quality.

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Around the country, a growing number of schools and districts are leveraging personalized learning — an instructional model centered around student needs and customization to meet individual skill levels, learning styles, and interests. Although the approach is gaining traction, efforts to develop high-quality personalized learning models have largely been concentrated in urban schools. For most of the nearly one in five students attending rural schools in America, the schooling experience has yet to embrace these promising innovations in teaching and learning.

This is a missed opportunity for rural areas, where schools face significant challenges — both similar to those in urban contexts and unique to rural communities. Many rural students face bleak postsecondary outcomes, and rural schools frequently confront geographic isolation, human capital shortages, and a rapidly changing economy. Personalized learning could help overcome some of these challenges by increasing student access to highly effective teachers and specialized coursework and by deepening the connections between K-12 schooling and postsecondary opportunities.

This paper, "The Promise of Personalized Learning in Rural America,” explores the application of personalized learning in rural schools, discusses and proposes solutions to the practical and policy barriers to implementation, and shares lessons learned from early adopters, including three case studies from rural communities in different parts of the country. The paper also addresses policy challenges, particularly around testing and accountability structures that may be incompatible with personalized learning, and funding constraints that challenge the transition to a new model.

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In "Grading Schools: How States Should Define ‘School Quality’ Under the Every Student Succeeds Act,” author Chad Aldeman argues that accountability systems are a state’s best tool to signal what it values and how schools should be working to improve.

But if states fail to take advantage of that opportunity, they may not provide sufficient urgency for schools to improve, especially for the disadvantaged students who rely on public schools the most and who have historically been underserved by them.

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Innovation is critical to advancing any sector. It increases the productivity of organizations, tests the merit of new ideas, and phases out practices that no longer work. Innovation-driven economies make current products, services, and organizations better and open up opportunities for new ones to emerge.

Innovation is essential in the education sector too. To reverse the trend of widening achievement gaps, we’ll need new and improved education opportunities — alternatives to the centuries-old model for delivering education that under-performs for millions of high-need students.

Yet compared to other sectors that have relied on continuous invention and improvement as a survival mechanism for decades, innovative policies and practices in the education sector are still nascent.

To modernize education’s approach to innovation, Bellwether created The U.S. Education Innovation Index: Prototype and Report (USEII), the field’s first foray into measuring education innovation at the city level.

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